Time for our regular weekly pivot off what you’ve been saying in the comments, and where better to start than with the 6/4 favourite to win the series, our lovely, cuddly Italian stallion teddy bear, Andrea Faustini.
Caro: “it was interesting how many close ups of Andrea’s tonsils we had… wearing a classic Versace design shirt. Very Italian!!” Gamblebot: “He didn’t get a superstar slot, but the audience was the LOUDEST for him, he’s getting the most social media likes”. Nugg: “Andrea will not win… he is very cleverly being allowed to fizzle out.” Jess: “Did “little italian bear” sound patronising to anyone else?” Curtis: “Did you see how Simon was able to kill the mood without seeming unreasonable. He is the master of manipulation.”
Since before the lives, conventional wisdom among Sofabet’s commenters has been that if producers wish to stop Andrea from winning, one thing they should do is remind us at every turn that he’s Italian. The theory is that in the later stages of the competition, there will then be scope to nudge patriots among the voting public to support a chosen rival by having Simon wheel out his time-honoured “I’d be proud to see you representing Britain on the world stage” routine.
Meanwhile, there will also be many who feel inclined to vote for Andrea in part as a gesture of making him feel welcome here. If producers want to minimise this form of motivation to vote, they need also emphasise repeatedly how much British people love Andrea. It’s another tried-and-tested technique (see especially 2011’s Johnny Robinson) to create the impression that social acceptance is the satisfying conclusion to an outsider act’s narrative arc, and that once this validation has been achieved, further votes become superfluous.
So, as noted by commenters, even though Andrea’s powerhouse vocals this week understandably saw his odds for the win shorten again, it wasn’t hard to discern hints that producers are holding out hope for a slow puncture. This week Mel B introduced Andrea as “my lovely, cuddly Italian”, and informed him during his VT that “you are my Italian stallion bear”. And was his Versace shirt a pizza evidence that they’re also taking subliminal opportunities to associate him with Italy? We wouldn’t put it pasta them.
Then there was the close-up of the teeth and nostrils:
Usually, of course, close-ups are considered to be helpful, in contrast to wide angles. But is the unnecessarily, uncomfortably, invading-personal-space close-up an exception to that rule? The extent of the zooming in at the end reminded us a little bit of this:
Last week we wrote an article explaining why we don’t think every single word of judges’ comments are scripted. But if there are ever going to be comments that are thought through more thoroughly than most, it will be the most influential judge’s comments to the act who is commonly presumed to be running away with the public vote to the displeasure of TPTB. Here’s what Simon said to Andrea:
Andrea. It looks like Britain has taken our little Italian teddy bear to our hearts. It was a lot better than last week. I mean, the thing about you is, and I kind of mean this as a compliment, is that when I want to eat five donuts, after listening to you it’s like I’ve eaten six, because you put so much into it. Um. But that’s who you are. But it was great. I mean, it was a fantastic, passionate performance.
Let’s parse that, shall we? Obviously, the first sentence reinforces the ideas that he’s Italian and that he’s already won the British public’s acceptance. Then “little teddy bear” is a bit of a demotion in mental image from Mel’s “stallion bear”. “It was a lot better than last week” = “remember it was bad last week”. “I kind of mean this as a compliment” = “I don’t really mean this as a compliment”.
On one level, the purpose of the obscure donuts comment is to puncture the mood without seeming harsh, by moving people from basking in Andrea’s performance to wondering what on earth Simon’s on about. You can read more into it if you’re so inclined. How would you feel after eating six donuts? A bit queasy. It’s too much; hard to digest. Donuts are sweet and tempting, but deep down we know they’re not good for us. We could go on, but suffice to say we suspect this wasn’t just something Simon blurted out as it popped into his head.
Then: “But that’s who you are.” The “but” reinforces the “kind of”, that this wasn’t really a compliment, as well as suggesting that Andrea can’t change. “But it was great” – that “but” again, qualifying the praise with which the comment ends. If you wanted to push it, you could also note that “passionate” echoes Mel’s use of “passion” in the VT, and that passion is as intrinsically Italian as a Versace shirt.
Her name is Lola, she’s not a showgirl
Dean: “Lola’s journey continues but she’s not a winner. ” Jess: “Lola can’t take pressure, she’s a choker”. Fudd: “They’re going to stay patient for only so long.”
Oh Lola. The audition pimp slots featuring your doting grandparents and fishmongering; the climactic judges’ houses rejection followed by wildcard resurrection; the week 1 critique of your outfit; and Simon’s comment that you’d only shown us 80% in week 2. It was all a build-up to your supposed breakout moment last Saturday. Instead it was the worst fluff since Diana Ross’s penalty kick for the 1994 World Cup opening ceremony.
“I don’t think I’ve had my moment to really shine,” she said in her VT, as a cue for viewers. To further prepare us, she was getting a makeover that was meant to emphasise her humble, down-to-earth nature – as well as the journey she was being taken on – with ‘Pretty Woman’ the background music.
The staging was exemplary: golden lighting; a catwalk; a backdrop of stars shooting upwards, later forwards; and most significantly of all, a curtain of fire – the only one we’ve seen so far this series.
There were three long, early cutaways to a highly-focused Cheryl looking entranced.
All supposed to give her the aura of going from last week’s “dark horse” to contender. Except…
Lola started going wrong on the final note of the first chorus, and sent out an immediate distress signal: the deep breath out which has previously been her “tell” that she’s overcome by nerves. This was just before she had to progress along the catwalk to the central plinth.
The rest of the song was rather painful to watch and listen to – she even looked nervous and apologetic being helped off the plinth. Judges’ comments initially refused to acknowledge it. Louis said: “You’re such an amazing singer and the only person who doesn’t know… is you… I know what this means for you. Vote for Lola!” At this point, Lola began having difficulty holding back the tears.
Mel B carried on the theme: “That was stunning… You need to start believing in yourself.” Simon recognised what had happened but started by offering a get-out: “I know you’ve had a tough week at home. The first part of the song worked really well. The big part was a problem… I felt for you.”
Cheryl said she had chosen the song (on which, more later), because the lyrics connected with Lola’s journey: “This is a miracle for you… You don’t know how many people you’re inspiring.” Dermot was upbeat, saying “You weren’t happy with your rehearsal, but you’ve got to be happy with that.” Lola clearly wasn’t.
Dermot tried to show her and us how popular she was by telling the audience, “She’s loved, right?” The camera cut to Louis clapping wildly, which was a cue for Dermot to continue: “You know you’re doing well when you get the orangutan clap from Louis.” (On which, Dermot, isn’t this how Louis claps?) Louis responded: “I love her, I love her, I love her.”
Lola admitted later on Xtra Factor that, as Dermot intimated, her rehearsal had been even more of a mess, forgetting the opening bits of the song. There’s a possibility that Lola had been intended for Saturday night’s pimp slot before fluffing her lines. Unusually strong support in the Betfair outright market had seen her price plummet by Saturday lunchtime. Last year, such a market move, presumably from those in the know, consistently foreshadowed a climactic spot in the running order. The staging also had pimp slot written all over it.
Either way, Lola failed to live up to her billing. Simon called her out in the Sunday results show as sounding particularly bad when he watched the Saturday show back on TV. He looked less than convinced when she was announced safe too. So has the show given up on Lola altogether and, if not, how can she be rehabilitated?
In her favour, the show still looks rather male-heavy, with only two left in the girls category. Producers have set up a nice dichotomy between Lauren’s younger, purer styling and her much-mentioned confidence beyond her years, with Lola’s more mature styling and appeal allied with her self-belief issues.
Trouble is, Lola’s problem with her nerves looks rather fundamental. One would hope the show has a psychologist on its books to help with these issues. But Tamera never overcame similar problems in last year’s live shows, even though she was given more than one chance.
If producers are willing to forgive Lola this missed open-goal, you would think that keeping her static and reprising an audition song might help her feel more at ease. The latter won’t be possible with next week’s Halloween theme, but perhaps she needs to make the decision about what she can sing. Cheryl giving her a Mariah/Whitney song (largely because of the lyrical content) only made Lola’s job harder, and arguably isn’t her ideal style anyway. Occasional Sofabet writer Dug suggested Amy Winehouse would suit her better. In the same ballpark, we’d add Duffy too, especially now she’s had a Duffy-style makeover.
Haenow, what’s with the mixed messages?
Donald: “Thought Ben VT was far from great”. Face: “I suspect Ben has been polling well… hence the de-pimping last night… but done as ‘constructive feedback’”. Eurovicious: “I got slight aggro vibes off Ben in his VT.”
We feel that Ben Haenow’s big strength up to now has been his likeable, easygoing persona and evident humility. So when he VTed, apropos Mel implying he coped wimpily with his illness in week 2, “Maybe she feels that her category are a bit threatened by me”, our instinctive reaction was that this was not good for him. It made him look arrogant.
The VT continued to portray Ben as self-absorbed and overcompetitive, as we saw him worrying about his boring song choice. His cursory dismissal of a show staffer suggesting that he listen back to his rehearsal came across as inconsiderate, in contrast to his mid-performance acknowledgements of the help he was getting from his bootcamp guitarist and judges’ houses backing vocalists.
However, the VT wasn’t all bad for Ben – far from it. We were reintroduced to his girlfriend, whose surprised reaction to Ben’s on-stage mention of marriage plans in the arenas had provided one of the sweetest moments of the audition shows. First we saw her sticking up for Ben’s manliness in not complaining about his throat infection, then we saw them embracing backstage as Ben again mentioned marriage – and after the song, producers cut to her supportive reaction. That all suggests producer intent to help.
Mixed messages continued in the comments. Louis was positivity personified – “what this show is all about… extraordinary voice… one of the people to watch”. Mel mixed praise for the “pitch perfect” vocals with (justified) criticism that he didn’t sufficiently emote; Cheryl was downbeat about the song choice but reminded us of the “love story”, as the camera cut back to Ben’s girlfriend. Then Simon called him an “incredible talent” and potential winner, but said the song choice meant he didn’t stand out and “I wish I hadn’t let you talk me in to that”.
Pimp slots don’t come along every week, and it’s always a worry when an act’s moment in the sun ends on a downbeat note (although, as noted above, it’s interesting to speculate whether Ben might have been swapped with Lola in the running order late on). On the other hand, both Louis and Simon went out of their way to call Ben a nice guy, which almost felt like a conscious effort to repair the damage they realised had been done to his likeability in the VT.
What’s going on? Frankly, we’re not sure. But sooner or later we’ll be approaching the point where this category ain’t big enough for the both of Ben and Jay, who this week got a pitch-perfect VT followed by more overblown praise for his vocals. We still can’t call who’ll emerge on top from those two. Can you?
Let us know your thoughts on this and other matters below.